Photo via Guadalupe Delgado for Parent Institute for Quality Education
By Claudia Gonzalez
SACRAMENTO — Hundreds of organizers, activists, and advocates rallied last week at the Capitol in a show of support for SB 4, otherwise known as Health 4 All. The bill, which passed the Senate Health Committee in a unanimous vote last week, would provide health insurance to all Californians, including undocumented residents.
Among the advocates were 17 Merced County residents from as far as Planada and Delhi, who traveled to Sacramento to put pressure on local representatives including Assemblymember Adam Gray (D – Merced) and Senator Anthony Cannella (R – Ceres) to support the bill.
In a strategic move, the group from Merced teamed up with residents from Modesto in an uncommon partnership to make the legislative visits more impactful.
“I am a voter, my kids are voters, and I am here to ask for your support,” 41 year-old Leticia Zaragoza said after members of the group made their way into Gray’s office. “Many of my family members do not have health insurance even though they pay taxes and contribute to our economy.”
Adriana Flores, 42, spoke of her 22 years “as an undocumented person [in Merced] … I have not seen a doctor in all these years and every day I am in pain.”
Gray confirmed to those gathered that he would be present at an upcoming #Health4All event in his district on May 8th that organizers say will bring local representatives and the community together to continue pushing towards granting health care to all residents of Merced County.
Earlier attempts by the group to speak with Senator Cannella were turned away by his staff. Gray was elected on a slim margin of just over 4,000 votes thanks, in part, to civic engagement efforts by community groups in both Merced and Modesto, including those on hand Monday.
According to a report by San Diego State University, University of Southern California Dornsife Center and The California Endowment, there are around 24,000 undocumented residents in Merced County. Fifty four percent of them do not have access to health care, while 88 percent of Californians agree the state should grant health coverage to undocumented residents.
Guadalupe Delgado, 43, is with Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQUE), one of the organizations behind Monday’s action. Residents were moved to act after learning of the “many families in their community [who] do not qualify for health coverage due to their immigration status,” she said.
Others groups included the Planada Civic Engagement Group, Merced Organizing Project (MOP), the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Merced Prevention Action team, and Congregations Building Communities (CBC) from Modesto.
Delgado, who is also a member of the BHC Prevention Action Team, was instrumental in motivating Planada residents to make the trip.
“A large percentage of Mercedians are still without access to health insurance even with the Medi-Cal expansion and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” she noted. “We need to change this in order to create a healthier California.”
Last week’s vote by the Senate Health Committee went along party lines, with all seven Democrats on the committee supporting SB 4. The two Republicans on the committee, Senators Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) and Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) abstained.
Sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the #Health4All bill would allow low-income immigrant families in California to get regular medical care through the state’s health insurance program for low-income people called Medi-Cal. The bill would also allow undocumented immigrants whose incomes are above the Medi-Cal eligibility limit to purchase insurance through Covered California, the state’s online marketplace set up under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Undocumented immigrants are currently excluded from purchasing health care through state exchanges.
Cecilia Mendoza, 70, lives in Merced. She was among those at the Capitol, where she testified that she had worked as a farmworker for nearly 50 years.
“Farm work is hard labor,” Mendoza said. “Many of our farmworkers work all day so you can have food on your table. It is unfair that they cannot go to the doctor or that you do not want to want to grant them health insurance.”
SB4 is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it is approved there, the full Senate will hear it.